A national gang expert's riveting presentation on gangs impressed the media and faculty at Eisenhower Junior High Wednesday, but it didn't faze some students.
"Well, everything they've said I already know," said Tara Carillo, a 13-year-old who has family members involved in gangs and said she won't promise to never join one.Carillo and some of her friends said they enjoyed the Law Day assembly, but it was not likely to change their lives.
The speaker Steve Nawojczyk (pronounced navoycheck), a gang specialist from Little Rock, Ark., tried to remind students that when they join a gang they jump their whole family.
"I'm not here to preach to you," he said, "I'm just going to tell you about things that have happened to me and happened to kids I know and happened to their families."
Nawojczyk told of an 18-month-old baby shot with bullets intended for his teenage gang-banging brother. He showed a grisly clip of a 10-year-old who lost a chunk of his arm in a drive-by shooting. He told story after story of young lives cut short by gangs.
The former Pulaski County Coroner said he uses these graphic images because they are what finally convinced him to quit his job and commit himself fully to fighting gangs. He now travels around the country giving presentations to police, educators and students.
However, for the kids closest to gangs, the images are no surprise.
"It's no different," Lashelle Wright-Hopkins said about Nawojczyk's stories. "It happens here, it happens everywhere." Her cousin's death last year did more to convince her to stay away from gangs than Wednesday's assembly, Wright-Hopkins said.
Kristina Metzger, 13, said the speaker's repeated reference to how gangs hurt younger siblings made her think twice about ever joining a gang. Yet, for other students, family is the biggest reason to become involved in gangs.
People join gangs because their older siblings or cousins are in one. "You look up to them," said Brenda Gonzalez, 13, who isn't in a gang but does "go down for" a certain West Valley gang. ("Go down for" means to root for but not be a member of a gang.)
Gonzalez, who missed the assembly because she was in in-school suspension, did get to meet Nawojczyk and proudly showed-off the card he autographed for her. It read, "Do Right!"
But when asked if she'd ever join a gang, Gonzalez wavered. "Right now, I say no," she said. "But when you're in the 5th grade, oh, no. You'll never do drugs, and look at us now."